Twelve months on, he’s approaching his 30th birthday and is likely to cost at least £20 million more than the £40m figure spoken of last summer – yet the need for Manchester United to sign Ivan Perisic is still just as pressing.
The hard-working and multi-skilled 29-year-old came into his own for Croatia at the World Cup when it mattered, in the final two games of the Balkan nation’s resplendent run to a first-ever final.
After an understated impact in Croatia’s first five games in Russia, the adroit attacking midfielder belatedly arrived with an excellent, improvised equalising goal against England in the semi-final, one which significantly shifted the momentum in his side’s favour.
Then, in the final against France, Perisic showed poise and panache with a stunning piece of skill and striking to make it 1-1.
Ultimately the Vatreni (Blazers) were unable to add to the fabric of fine wins foraged in penalty shootout wins over Denmark and Russia in the last 16 and last eight, as well as that epic extra-time win against England.
But Perisic showed why he is exactly the right fit of Old Trafford. He is a player tailor made for a club whose traditions are steeped in swashbuckling, attacking football, typified by wizards out wide.
He is also perfect for manager Jose Mourinho – who likes his wingers to marry skill and substance with voracious work rate and an awareness of defensive responsibilities.
A deal to prise Perisic away from the bosom of Inter Milan was close a year ago. Mourinho wanted him and the player wanted to come. In fact, the fact that the Nerazzurri refused to sell resulted in ramifications internally, with Perisic said to be at odds thereafter with San Siro supremos.
He was fined for taking part in a professional beach volleyball competition during the off-season in his homeland and cut an awkward Ashley Cole-esque pose in a photo with the rest of the Inter squad before they jetted off to China for a pre-season training camp – standing clearly to the right of his teammates.
In August, Inter boss Luciano Spalletti even felt duty bound to act when he insisted wantaway Perisic “is determined to remain” following a 1-0 pre-season win over Real Betis.
But he soon settled back into a rhythm and the riotous form of 2016/17 returned – matching that term’s goal tally and proving that Perisic is the all-round package.
He recorded 11 goals and nine assists in 37 Serie A games for Inter during 2017/18. He was ninth in assists and 14th for goals – but impressively second among midfielders. And in terms of both tallies, no other came close to matching him – not even Serbian sensation Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
He averaged two key passes per game (10th) while his 74 for the season placed him sixth.
His 1.3 dribbles per game was 35th – only Lucas Torreira, Nicolas Viola, Jordan Veretout and Giacomo Bonaventura embarked on more successful dribbles than his 31 having made fewer attempts.
His 67 aerial duels won placed him seventh among midfielders.
When you compare his numbers to the entire United team last season, only Paul Pogba registered more league assists (10), only Romelu Lukaku found the net more times (16).
Alexis Sanchez’s mark of 2.2 key passes per game was the only one better than Perisic, while the Croat’s total for the season was 23 more than any United player – Juan Mata made the most with 51. Only Lukaku (109) and Chris Smalling (108) won more battles in the air.
Now, La Gazzetta dello Sport claim it will take an offer of £62m to convince Inter to enter into a deal with the Red Devils.
That would represent a £22m increase on the £40m bid United lodged last summer. And it remains to be seen whether United chiefs will be willing to sanction a deal given Perisic’s age.
Not to mention, what would a seismic deal to bring in a player seven months away from 30 say about the futures of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford?
United fans would be reluctant for the club to consider cashing in on either bright prospect in the hope Perisic’s arrival leads to the pursuit of silverware and pinning back of rivals Manchester City’s progress.
But for how much longer will Mourinho practice patience? After all, he is a man under huge pressure this season after runners-up United finished 19 points off champions City – a record chasm between first and second place in the Premier League era.
Martial played in seven fewer games than Perisic last season and Rashford just two, with the young England starlet’s seven goals and five assists and the Frenchman’s nine goals and five assists paling in comparison.
It must be taken into account though that Perisic’s 37 appearances were all starts, while Rashford made just 17 and Martial only 18, both enjoying significantly less playing time than the Croat’s 3,316 minutes.
One thing we know about Mourinho is that he’s not one for suffering fools. And whereas both Martial, 22, and especially Rashford, 20, are very much still developing, they can be ferocious as much as they are infuriating.
Club and coach are critically in need of a more polished product. Perisic, then, provides the perfect answer.
The constant wondering during recent summers. The never-ending question; will he or won’t he join Real Madrid? It’s all become a bit tiresome for Red Devils supporters.
But consider this. Who is more exhausted: them, of the constant transfer speculation, or De Gea, who has been a constant saviour for his side in recent campaigns, relied upon far too often by a team that still considers itself one of, if not the, biggest club in the world?
It is high time United boss Jose Mourinho came up with a solution for the conundrum in front of him. Despite hauling in two trophies in his two years in charge at Old Trafford, the chances of more following are scant.
That is especially true if De Gea, in the final year of his contract, finally decides he’s had enough of putting out fires in front of him and leaves next summer.
Football is cyclical and of course not any one team can dominate year after year.
And United’s current malaise is hardly perpetual. Yes, this is the longest period they have gone without winning a league title since the 26-year drought they endured from 1967 to 1993.
But five years isn’t quite the 28 hated rivals Liverpool are still enduring to win an elusive 19th English domestic crown. Nor is it the 44 years between Manchester neighbours City’s second and third league successes.
De Gea is a superb goalkeeper. There is no longer any debate as to who holds the title of best in the world in their hands.
Even considering Manuel Neuer’s recent lengthy injury lay-off, De Gea’s meteoric rise in the last few years and the German’s ever so slight decline has opened a clear chasm in class between the two custodians.
And while, statistically, Neuer’s compatriot and Barcelona No1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen may lead the way in Europe this season, he plays behind a far superior defence at the Camp Nou, who ultimately give their stopper far less to do than United’s unconvincing defence hand De Gea week in, week out.
The Spaniard’s magnificence has seen him collect United’s Player of the Year accolade four times in the past five seasons. And while that is testament to De Gea’s continuing and ever-improving brilliance in between the sticks, it should also raise alarm bells among United fans.
That their club, one that prides itself on traditions steeped in swashbuckling, scintillating and sublime attacking football, is currently being propped up by a man shining at the wrong end of the pitch.
Despite their woes, United remain one of the biggest attractions in club football for elite players. With revenues and clever marketing exposure keeping them at the forefront of the modern game – at least off the pitch.
On it, they have strayed away from the values and expectations that great entertainers Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson built, honed and perfected.
Since Ferguson retired, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have championed turgid, languid, uninspiring and pragmatic football that betrays everything the club stands for. The famed substance and style has taken a back seat.
Just think how much worse it could have been had it not been for De Gea. It’s almost certain the FA Cup triumph Van Gaal bequeathed to the club as a parting gift in 2015/16 and a first-ever Europa League success in Mourinho’s debut a year later would not have been obtained.
Even the dismal seventh-place finish in the disastrous sole season under Moyes could feasibly have been surpassed.
United have possessed great goalkeepers throughout history. Harry Gregg, Gary Bailey, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar spring to mind. All four were magnificent and played significant roles in United’s success and rise to prominence.
But they also had team-mates of true substance and worth who were equally as valuable. Currently it’s hard to argue against De Gea being the only jewel in United’s crown – with celebrated stars Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez failing to live up to their exalted reputations last season.
A lesser man might already have moved on – particularly to Madrid, where he has close links to both city and country.
Surely home has been tugging at his heartstrings in the seven years he has been away. How he must yearn for the sweet tune of silverware, secured in abundance by Los Blancos during the time he has been acting as a one-man band in Manchester.
Three successive Champions League trophies have been swept up, as well as two La Liga crowns and one Copa del Rey title.
Even former club Atletico have appeared in two of the last five Champions League finals – while Los Rojiblancos even broke the Real-Barca duopoly on the league title and won the Copa del Rey since De Gea departed in 2011.
How much longer can De Gea realistically be expected to stay at a club that professes to be one of the world’s biggest, yet right now are a small fish in a big pond being plundered by City?
In the wider waters of Europe, Real, Barca, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus are all teams you would class as a level above this United.
Back home, meanwhile, United fans fume at the rise of Liverpool. They will have rejoiced at their Champions League final defeat to Real. But secretly, most will be jealous of the scintillating brand of football implemented by Jurgen Klopp at Anfield.
De Gea is 27 and has a year remaining on his Red Devils deal. After a difficult beginning in England, where he struggled to come to terms with his £18.9 million price tag and a physicality alien to him in Spain, as well as rumoured early homesickness, De Gea developed quickly.
He beefed up under United’s goalkeeping coaches and would have learned a lot from illustrious team-mates and his legendary manager. He soon began to display the talent Ferguson undoubtedly saw in the scrawny teenager at Atletico.
He’s proven to be one of the Scots’ most sublime signings, but for how much longer should he have to plug the holes opened up by a porous United defence, or come to the rescue of a stunted, lacklustre attack?
As the popular chant that rings out around Old Trafford and away grounds up and down the country goes, ‘Dave Saves’. United are probably safe from Madrid taking their prized asset for another season.
But unless things change dramatically in 2018/19 and Mourinho can rekindle both his own flame and that of United’s past, it would be cruel for even United fans to expect De Gea not to want to hand himself something better.
It is time for Mourinho and United to reward his magnificence with medals.
Former England captain Casey Stoney has been appointed as the head coach of the new Manchester United women’s team.
The 36-year-old, who earned 130 international caps and won 12 major trophies during her career, has recently worked as an assistant with England Women.
“I am delighted to have joined Manchester United. This the biggest club in the world,” Stoney said.
“The fact that we are going to have a women’s team and I’m going to be able to introduce that from scratch, to build a team, build a philosophy, with the biggest club in the world, means that, for me, there is no more exciting opportunity.”
Manchester United’s application to enter a women’s team in next season’s FA Women’s Championship was approved by the football Association last month.